Reciprocity in International Volunteer Cooperation (Norec, 2016)

“Reciprocity” has become a common buzzword in international development cooperation. Its virtues are often touted with little critical reflection on the depth of the concept or how the principles of reciprocity can truly be implemented in organizational policies and practices. Likewise, many scholars and practitioners have noted a meaningful lack of precision about the fundamental concepts of constituting reciprocity.

This paper, commissioned by FK Norway, intends to untangle critical assumptions behind this term—asking the readers to stop and consider how this concept, along with the underlying values and ideas associated with it, are understood, expressed, and valued in international volunteer cooperation.

The paper explores reciprocity as a concept, drawing from a wide body of literature on international cooperation and exchange. It also explores some of the hidden and unintended consequences that might emerge from reciprocal relationships. The discussion considers whether IVCOs and volunteers acting together with host-country partners can embrace an authentic expression of partnership—being mutually empowered to make and act on targeted development priorities. This question draws on many diverse dimensions of reciprocity that contemporary IVCOs practice. Finally, with an acknowledgment that full reciprocity may be problematic in some instances, the paper explores the potential strengths of reciprocity within the contemporary system of international volunteer cooperation.